US & Canada

Maryland governor signs French railway Holocaust bill

Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz, right, and Governor Martin O'Malley, left
Image caption Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz, right, urged Governor Martin O'Malley to back the bill

A US governor has signed a bill requiring a French railway company to disclose its role in the Holocaust if it is to win state contracts.

Martin O'Malley of Maryland signed a bill aimed at Keolis, a Paris company owned by French national railways SNCF.

The company had bid to operate commuter trains in the state of Maryland.

Historians say SNCF moved 76,000 Jews to Nazi camps during the Holocaust. The laws' supporters say it will force disclosure of war records.

Online availability

"We hope this legislation can become a national model sooner rather than later so that Holocaust survivors who are still with us can know that the atrocities inflicted upon their families and their people will remain in our minds, will never be forgotten and will never be repeated," Mr O'Malley said on Thursday.

According to the bill, the first of its kind passed in the US, companies that were involved in the deportation of Holocaust victims that seek contracts with Maryland's commuter rail system would have to make company records pertaining to their role available online to the public.

The company records required to be disclosed include internal memoranda, receipts, invoices, audits and correspondence.

In addition, the companies would have to provide an account of property confiscated from Holocaust victims and an account of restitution paid.

The bill is specifically aimed at an American arm of Keolis, a Paris-based company whose majority shareholder is French railroad Societe National de Chemins de Fer, or SNCF.

Keolis had submitted a bid to provide commuter rail service along two lines in Maryland.

'Need the truth'

Holocaust survivor Leo Bretholz, 90, pushed for the legislation and attended the bill signing ceremony.

"It's a beginning," said Mr Bretholz, who escaped from an SNCF train wagon en route to the Auschwitz concentration camp. "The other states will probably take note and perhaps do the same thing. We need contrition. We need statements. We need the truth."

In January, SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy apologised to Holocaust victim's on the company's behalf.

But some French historians have said the company, an arm of the French state, was forced into its role in the Holocaust by the German occupation force.